As Janine sang the last words of "You're Mean to Me," she wondered if anyone in the audience understood the song; ". . . It must be great fun to be mean to me. You shouldn't, for can't you see, what you mean to me?"
There was a smattering of human-like applause, and she smiled and bowed, feeling tired inside her red sequined dress. Pidjoid bodies were at least close enough to human for her to feel sexy among them. Janine always thought there must be something alluring about a skinny alien girl belting her heart out onstage to an essentially tone deaf audience.
"Thank you," she said into the mic. "That's it for me to-night. Enjoy the rest of your stay at the Stone Ledge Hotel."
Grey and white bird heads turned silently back to one another, resuming their telepathic conversations, apparently not knowing enough of human custom to recognise another cue for applause. Behind her, tiny whirring noises told her that her miniature robotic band was packing up. Janine retrieved her heavy steel suitcase from stage left, seeing Rick with his white sleeved arms folded under his narrow black beak as he leaned on the stage, watching her.
"Hey, Rick," she said. "You awake?"
That song's about someone who mistreats his lover, said Rick, tapping the polished black stage with one talon-finger.
"That's right," she opened her suitcase and the tiny metal man who played her bass guitar hopped in. "You're getting better."
I like it. It's Chinese.
Janine suppressed a laugh, reminding herself that "Chinese" was merely the word her own mind chose for his telepathic expression of fascination with something foreign. Janine liked Chinese art. "I'm glad there are open-minded pidjoids like you around."
I'm glad there are pretty girls on other planets, said Rick.
"Why, Rick, that's so diplomatic of you."
He shrugged, his round black eyes covered briefly by a slow blink, I don't know that word.
"Diplomatic?" He nodded. "It means being kind to another group."
Ah. So are you roses on planet China?
"Well, I suppose I'm pretty." She blushed, pulling back her blonde tresses into a ponytail. At nineteen years-old, Janine guessed it would probably be another five or so years before she stopped being so easily flustered.
Rick! came a burst of telepathy from the overstuffed cafe manager, Stumpy. Stop eating doughnuts! You've got leggos to stack!
I'm on it! said Rick, stepping back from the stage.
"So I'm doughnuts, huh?" said Janine, narrowing her eyes and smiling.
"Oh, nothing. You still buying me dinner after this?"
You bet your breast!
Want me to carry you? said Rick as Janine nearly fell for the third time since they left the hotel. The streets were made up of crosshatched concrete struts, useful if your feet were talons, rather difficult if you were a human girl in pumps.
"I'm fine," said Janine, finally removing her shoes.
I don't know how you get by on such flat feet, said Rick, holding her arm and stopping her as a carriage trotted past. Pidjoids didn't have names, and Janine had named Rick after Humphrey Bogart's character in Casablanca, but most pidjoid voices in her head manifested themselves as sounding somewhat like Cary Grant. Even in Rick, Cary Grant's peculiar half-American, half-Cockney accent was beginning to overtake the rich, nasal voice of Bogart. She wondered what that meant. Was she losing interest in him?
Janine met Rick about a month ago when she'd started working at what the human trade maps called the Stone Ledge Hotel--presumably as a reference to a place where pigeons might perch for the night. The pidjoids had been created thousands of years ago when human and pigeon DNA was at last combined. Most pidjoids yet took pride in their avian ancestry.
The six or seven pidjoids queued outside the brown and beige wall of the restaurant all glanced curiously at Janine.
I guess this place is slow motion popped water balloon, said Rick, rubbing the back of his head. Janine was often unsure how much odd metaphors had to do with her own mind or with the creativity on the part of the transmitter--some pidjoids certainly seemed to send her stranger images than others.
"I don't mind waiting," she said, hugging her bare shoulders as she leaned against the wall. Overhead, violet clouds were thick and beginning to darken. She hoped it wouldn't rain. On a human world, she'd have changed out of the tight, strapless red dress, but she had figured that she looked strange around here no matter what she wore. Now, however, she felt incredibly naked. It was only the third time she'd set foot outside the hotel.
So who wrote that last song you were singing?
"I don't know, actually," said Janine. "I first heard it sung by Billie Holiday."
He nodded. No ambiguity there, at least. Several minutes of silence followed. Silence on a world where people did not speak was always eerie, but now it was a little unnerving as Janine started wondering what she was doing here. Rick had gradually gotten to seem cute to her. His inquisitiveness and unabashed flattery had sort of melded with his attractive, human-like body so that his strange head had begun to seem like an endearing quirk. But at this moment, he was beginning to seem like just another cold alien among millions.
Janine bit her lip and frowned at a grey building across the street--was she just cold and nervous? If he wasn't going to start talking, she decided she'd better.
"So why'd you want to go out with me?" she asked.
Expel? He cocked his head.
"The date. Why did you want to go on a date with me?"
This was already going to be the same day for both of us, right?
Janine laughed. "No! I mean, why are we having a romantic meeting?"
He said nothing for a moment and his big bird eyes blinked at her. You are a nice book to me.
Rick rubbed the plummage just under his beak. I must--take a detour to avoid a bad traffic accident now. You know Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. I want to know Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. It wasn't you. It was never you all along. I love you. You might be a monkey wrench for me. But there's a problem where we are; I'm married.
"What the fuck are you saying?"
I--I lock you back in your house now. He took her arm and started to lead her away from the restaurant but she pulled from him.
"No--no, what the fuck was all that about roses--and that time you promised to build me a gazebo?" She shook her head at him. "Why did you say 'My Funny Valentine' was about the two of us? What the fuck do you mean you're married?"
You--misunderstood. I'm not even a builder. And I'm not tied to anyone. His shoulders sagged now. You are ill and it hurts me.
"I'm . . ." She looked at his blank black eyes. He liked her, right? She was sure . . . wasn't she? All she saw were the strange empty eyes and she knew there was nothing she could say, nothing she could ask that would yield answers her brain could interpret from those black eyes. Again, she felt the silence of a whole world of pidjoids.
Finally she said nothing and did the only thing she could do. She walked away, feeling the concrete struts biting into the soles of her bare feet. He didn't stop her.